Change. If Barack Obama delivers on his simple campaign pledge, that’s what’s coming to Washington. But George W. Bush offered change of his own — particularly on laws and regulations affecting landowners.
ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT: The most significant changes to the nation’s most important rule for protecting wildlife came under President Bush. And no change was more substantial than the one that came just weeks before Bush was to leave office. Under a new rule announced by both the Interior Department and Commerce Department, federal agencies will no longer need to consult with independent wildlife experts — or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — to determine if any of their projects might have an impact on a given endangered species.
• THE IMPACT ON LANDOWNERS: Mixed. A boon for those hoping to see specific projects proceed at a faster pace. A curse for those hoping to either bolster protections for certain species or use the Endangered Species Law to prevent the feds from pushing through new dams, highways, et cetera.
MONUMENTAL NATIONAL MONUMENT EXPANSION: Just days before he left office, Bush designated some 195,280 square miles as “national monuments.” But don’t expect marble sculptures to be erected there anytime soon. Most of the areas that are now protected from development, mining, or oil exploration, are underwater. They include various reefs and sea floors in the Pacific Ocean — parts of the Mariana Trench among them.
• IMPACT ON LANDOWNERS: Positive. True, private landowners don’t have property 20,000 leagues under the sea. But, by focusing on protecting so much of the ocean from commercial use, Bush spared landowners from the kind of 11th-hour protections that other presidents have employed.
A ROADLESS RULE TO NOWHERE: The Bush Administration spent eight years trying to rewrite Clinton Administration rulemaking that prevented commercial activity in road less wilderness areas.
• IMPACT ON LANDOWNERS: Mixed. For landowners whose properties abut federal lands that are not designated as federal wilderness areas, whether Bush’s efforts to change Clinton’s rules were good or bad is a matter of perspective.
DRILL, BABY, DRILL: As Barack Obama was planning his train trip from Philadelphia to Washington, President Bush and his Interior Department were proposing a major expansion to oil and gas drilling areas on both coasts.
• IMPACT ON LANDOWERS: Negative. Though some private landowners could stand to profit from expanded offshore drilling, Obama has already said he intends to explore a comprehensive energy policy before deciding whether or where that kind of expansion should take place.